PME Taskforce call for stronger support for PMEs who become involuntarily unemployed

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It’s been a full year since nine recommendations were made by the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC)-Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) PME Taskforce (PME TF) to strengthen PMEs’ employment and employability and enable them to compete fairly and more effectively in the labour market.

Since the release of the recommendations, NTUC-SNEF has been working closely with the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) to explore these recommendations in an effort to better address the aspirations and concerns of PMEs.

The nine recommendations that were proposed after a series of ground engagements with over 10,000 PMEs, union leaders and business leaders fall under four key thrusts:

  1. Enhancing Workplace Fairness
  2. Providing Unemployment Support and Benefits
  3. Ensuring More Hiring Opportunities for Mature PMEs
  4. Supporting PMEs in Career Progression and Skills Upgrading
 

Despite progress being made on most of the recommendations, there is much left to be done on the provision of unemployment support and benefits for PMEs.

PME Taskforce continues to advocate for unemployment support and benefits

Speaking on the progress of the PME TF recommendations a year on, NTUC Secretary-General Ng Chee Meng acknowledges that the MOM is still reviewing this call to support PMEs who becomes involuntarily unemployed.

This is one area I hope MOM would lend their strong support because PMEs told us they would very much need interim assistance should they lose their jobs.

Sharing the same sentiments, NTUC Assistant Secretary-General Patrick Tay, who also co-chairs the PME TF said that “The government has not responded and come up with a position on this yet, but we feel strongly for it because, particularly these days, it’s exacerbated by rising costs of living,”

Contrary to popular belief, PMEs are no less vulnerable to retrenchments as seen by the high numbers during the COVID-19 economic downturn. Now that Singapore’s economy may be venturing into uncertainty stemming from the storms brewing in the global economy, strengthening unemployment income support for PMEs who are involuntarily unemployed is more important now than ever to prepare us in the event of an economic downturn.

While the PME TF is advocating for monetary support for involuntarily unemployed workersMr Tay reiterates that it is an interim support and not a welfare situation that the PME TF is pursuing. He mentioned, how, with interim unemployment support, PMEs could get some breathing space to retrain, upgrade their skills and look for suitable employment. This would help to alleviate much of the anxieties of PMEs, especially those who are more mature and carry more financial responsibilities.

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In one of the latest NTUC #EveryWorkerMatters Conversations dialogue sessions held on 25 October 2022, over 70 PMEs came together to provide feedback on employment challenges they faced. Amongst the topics discussed, unemployment support, skills training and the need to strengthen the Singaporean Core were mentioned by PMEs as being critical in aiding in their overall employment and employability opportunities.

Recognising that unemployment support must be supplemented by active labour market policy and mechanisms, the PME TF will also continue to work with the Government through the other eight recommendations so that PMEs continue to be incentivised to search for and land a job while receiving benefits.

Outcomes from the PME Taskforce

Here are the outcomes of the recommendations that were accepted by the Government:

  1. Enhancing fair employment practices through improving HR standards and strengthening enforcement against errant companies adopting unfair practices
    On the enforcement end, TAFEP will be given legislative powers so that it can  improve workplace fairness and provide for a level playing field for PMEs.

    To improve HR standards, the tripartite partners are working with the Institute of Human Resource Professionals (IHRP) to certify and train 12,000 Human Resource professionals by 2025 to provide PMEs fair employment assurances

  2. Strengthening Singaporean core by enhancing employment pass application review process and facilitating skills transfer to local PMEs
    The implementation of the Complementarity Assessment Framework (COMPASS) that will come into effect in September 2023, for Employment Pass applications to go beyond an applicant’s educational qualifications and salary.
    The new point-based framework will safeguard PMEs’ interests even as it allows companies to bring in foreign professionals that complement the local workforce.

  3. Developing structured jobs and skills plans for PMEs through Company Training Committees (CTCs)
    CTCs will play a role in promoting the upskilling of workers to achieve higher productivity from the workforce in tandem with business transformation.
    With the provision of $70mn in grants by MOM, NTUC will scale up to 2,500 CTCs by 2025. Employers can uplift PMEs through structured jobs and skills plans to ensure that their skillset remains relevant and in demand.

  4. Strengthening the nexus between tripartite partners and Institutes of Higher Learning (IHLs) to prepare workforce for economic transitions and investment pipelines
    NTUC and SNEF signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on 17 October 2022 to strengthen the NTUC Job Security Council (JSC) and enhance the jobs ecosystem for PMEs and other worker groups.

    It aims to drive better wages, work prospects and welfare for PMEs; and better support the more than 3,300 SNEF-member employers in their business and workforce transformation efforts.

An Ongoing Effort

The PME TF was formed in October 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic to listen to and better address the concerns of PMEs in face of the then economic downturn. As the global outlook evolves, the PME TF will continue working alongside tripartite partners to engage PMEs to understand new challenges and provide recommendations so that Singaporeans are equipped to have the skills that they will need for the jobs of the future.

Apart from the several dialogue sessions held and, in the pipeline, SNEF had also launched the Structured Career Planning (SCP) Guidebook in partnership with MOM in July 2022, and organised various workshops to help employers kickstart meaningful discussions with their PME workers on their career goals and required skills.

SNEF President and Co-Advisor of PME TF Dr Robert Yap believes that besides upskilling and reskilling, “recommendations from the PME TF will help PMEs be more resilient and adaptable, especially in today’s ‘never normal’ business environment.”

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